Unstuck: Mind the Gap

9

mind the gapIf you’ve been to London, you’re very likely familiar with “The Tube”. The Tube is what they call their subway system. Wherever you travel using the subway in London, you’re always told to “Mind the gap.” You hear that phrase on the loudspeakers. You see that phrase plastered throughout the subways. You won’t be in London very long before you’re aware of the warning to “Mind the gap.”

When you’re traveling in London, “the gap” refers to the space between the subway platform and the train. As you’re stepping out the train, there’s a caution to mind the gap between the train and the platform. It would be a bad day if you fell in the gap.

That word picture struck a chord with me, because I think there’s a gap that exists in churches today as well. In recent months, I’ve been warning church leaders to “Mind the gap.” There’s a gap between the vision and the people who are waiting to execute the vision. Unfortunately, leaders with big vision tend to ignore the gap. They buy into the myth that if people unify behind a clear vision, the ministry will succeed. Let me explain why that type of thinking may lead to you getting stuck.

Today it’s not uncommon for churches to have vision statements. Knowing the importance of unifying behind a clear vision, leaders have gone through many conversations and exercises to develop the church’s vision statement. Let’s look at an example. Let’s assume our church’s vision statement is to: “Love God. Love people. Change a community.” That’s a very compelling vision.

With their new vision statement completed, leaders will preach messages and create campaigns to gain support of the new vision. If the leader is effective in vision casting and has built trust, people will rally behind the vision and the leader. The vision statement may end up on the website, in the weekly bulletin on the walls of the church facilities. In fact, if the communications and vision casting strategy is executed effectively, it’s possible for everyone in the church to know and embrace the vision of the church.

That’s the problem. It’s possible for everyone to know the vision, and still not have any clue what they’re supposed to do to help make the vision become reality. The problem is that church leaders have failed to “mind the gap.” For churches, the gap is that space between vision and execution that generates results. The gap includes the specific strategies and systems that are established to accomplish the vision. Visually, it may look like this:

Vision + [Strategies & Systems] + Execution = Results

When there’s a strategies and systems gap, churches end up just “doing church” — they do what churches have always done. They may have a unique vision statement from the church down the street, but they end up employing the same methods as the church down the street. They do that because no one took the time to figure out what strategies and systems would be required to accomplish the vision. That’s how churches end up doing the same things churches have always done, but hoping for different results.

Here are some warning signs that your ministry may not be minding the gap:

  • Since you haven’t clarified your strategies and systems, the loudest person decides what does or doesn’t happen in your church.
  • You lose great staff and lay leaders to other churches or community organizations, because you’ve not empowered them with clear strategies and systems.
  • Because there’s a gap, good people with good hearts will try to fill the gap. They’ll start to develop their own strategies and systems to accomplish your vision. Eventually you’ll have many people pulling in many directions, and that will create division and ultimately split churches.
  • When you haven’t clarified strategies and systems, more meetings are required. Every time an issue pops up, you have to reinvent the wheel. People who crave power love this because there are more meetings to make decisions. People who crave ministry impact, leave the church.
  • Your giving plateaus or declines. People will give to vision when they know specifically how the vision is going to be accomplished. People do not give to a vision statement.

Most important, if people are sitting on the sidelines and aren’t engaged in ministry, that’s a loud warning that you need to mind the gap. People may have bought fully into your vision. They may be willing to invest their time to execute the vision. They may just be completely clueless as to what they’re supposed to do.

In his book The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber said it this way:

“What makes people work is an idea worth working for, along with a clear understanding of what needs to be done.”

You help people get a clear understanding of what needs to be done by minding the gap. You have to establish the specific strategy to accomplish the vision. And, you need to establish the systems for executing that strategy. The systems make it possible for you to empower leaders and mobilize people. Without systems, you have to stay involved in every task and every decision.

So I already know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “This is a great business philosophy, but it has no place in a church. It’s not biblical.” In addition to minding the gap, I guess I can also read minds. We’ll cover biblical examples of ministry strategies and systems in the next article.

For those of you who have experienced “the gap”, what are some other warnings signs for us to consider? You can join the conversation by sharing your comment.

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About Author

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.

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